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Heath Streak talks about starring in Zimbabwe's first Test win, his mixed feelings about captaincy, and heartbreak in Port-of-Spain
Interview by Scott Oliver
April 9, 2014
I watched a lot of the Packer Series as a youngster. My grandmother lived in Australia and she used to send me lots of video recordings of all the games. Channel Nine. I grew up watching the Lillees, the Thomsons, Imran Khan, Hadlee, Marshall. They were my inspirations.
Winning a Test series at home against Pakistan, and being fortunate enough to get Man of the Series, was certainly one of the highlights of my career. That and a World Cup victory against South Africa in 1999.
I certainly didn't know anything about Andy Flower's and Henry Olonga's protest. I have admiration for them standing up and doing what they did. There were other people in the team who maybe shared their opinions but were concerned about the repercussions. But it certainly did put a lot of pressure on the players for an opinion. At that stage a lot was happening and people - the press - wanted to know what you thought of the political situation. So yeah, it was difficult for me as captain, because you're the one who faces the media. Would I have done anything differently if they'd told me the day before? Maybe run for the hills!
I got fined 15% of my match fee after a game against England in Bulawayo. A reporter questioned me about whether I had any regrets about saying that the Zimbabwe umpire was favouring us. I said no, I felt the umpires had done the right thing according to the laws. But I was fined for making comments on the match. Because it was England, a meal was made of it, but it wasn't really a big thing, to be honest. Anyway, it was 15% of not very much. Probably about five quid at the time!
I was a lot more side-on in my first two years with Zimbabwe. Then I had a problem with my back so my whole action changed to a semi-front-on. Then, playing a lot of short-version cricket, you change style: your lengths change, you don't bowl as full because you're trying to stop guys getting on the front foot to drive you, which is what I was trying to do in Test cricket.
We have a safari company but I've never woken up with a crocodile under the bed. We're not as fortunate as Guy Whittall. Just the odd snake.
Playing two-Test series was frustrating. It doesn't really give you a chance to get into the series. But we got used to it.
We played on a very flat wicket in Karachi on my debut. I had a couple of catches dropped, didn't take a wicket, and thought I'd never get an opportunity again. In my second match the wicket had a little bit more pace and bounce, and there were swinging conditions. They really suited me. I got Javed Miandad out twice and it was quite a relief to perform.
I grew up around cricket fields.
I was lucky to have played a Logan Cup final with my father - he was 46 years old, I was 19. We didn't have a big squad at that stage. A lot of people were semi-pros. We'd had a few guys injured and he was still playing competitive club cricket, and doing quite well, so he ended up playing. That was quite something. I was more nervous for him than for me.
I don't really remember our first Test win over India. I played so much cricket in my life that I only remember certain little excerpts of it. Some moments. As you get older and they are further and further away, you forget things.
Sachin Tendulkar was the best player I bowled at, especially in subcontinent conditions. Brian Lara, on his day, too, because you could bowl good balls to him and still go the boundary.
On the field, I really enjoyed the captaincy.
I'd played for Zimbabwe at every age group, toured England and played against the counties, against quite a few internationals, but you always wonder whether you can take that next step up.
Beating Pakistan in Pakistan was special. It was a serious Pakistani team and they had a serious bowling attack: Wasim, Waqar, Mushtaq Ahmed, Aaqib Javed, Azhar Mahmood.
|"We were extra motivated against England. There was the added thing that if guys performed, they could maybe get county contracts"|
The captaincy was definitely a time of mixed feelings for me. It came with that whole integration policy, and there was a lot of jostling for positions within the board. It became very political, in a cricket sense, as opposed to in terms of the country. It was not a good time. There was a lot of uncertainty with people and their futures, whether they were doing the right thing by staying. I feel that whole thing robbed me of the latter end of my career. It's something I look back on with regret.
All bowlers remember their best batting performance, and that hundred against West Indies [in 2003] was a special moment, but unfortunately we couldn't quite nip out that last wicket to win the game. Andy Blignaut sent down the quickest spell of fast bowling I've seen from any Zimbabwean. He was bowling high 140s and a couple into the 150s, but we ended up having to bowl spin because the light got bad.
The Pakistani players were very helpful towards us. We learned a lot in those days about reverse swing, which started to help us in our cricket as well. And also how to do it legitimately.
My time with Warwickshire was because I had a wife and young family and I had to look after my own interests. It was sad. As much as I loved my time at Edgbaston and made some great friends, at the end of the day I'd have preferred to be playing international cricket at the top end.
The best bowler I faced was Shane Warne. My plan was usually to get down the other end and make it someone else's problem.
In my second Test we were 135 for 1 chasing 240 and should have won. It was a combination of reverse swing and home umpiring. In those days you didn't have neutral umpires and we felt that definitely we got the raw end of the deal. There were some crucial decisions that went Pakistan's way that were blatantly not out.
I admired Steve Waugh as a captain, although the job he had was quite a nice one - with the group of players that he had.
The England series [1996-97] was quite spicy. Bumble [David Lloyd] was under a lot of pressure at the time, and so was Mike Atherton, for being beaten by what they termed "a bunch of farmers". But we had a good side and played exceptionally hard. You know, we probably took more offence being called that than the English did in being beaten by us. A lot of us came from farming backgrounds and although we weren't full professionals, we would have been practising as much as any professional players.
I have a cricket academy here in Zimbabwe. It's still in the formative stages, but we're training kids from the lower-income areas. I have three coaches working alongside me and we have students who come in to do sessions. We don't have a live-in academy yet, but that's in the pipeline.
From a command-of-skills point of view, Wasim Akram was one of the most difficult guys I faced. He had a serious cricket brain. He could read the batsman and always kept you guessing. There were other guys who were super-quick but as an all-round package he was unbelievable.
We were lucky at our school in that we had an ex-Test player as coach, Bob Blair, who played for New Zealand.
We were extra motivated against England. Definitely. There was the added thing that if guys performed they could maybe get county contracts. It was televised on Sky. So there was a lot on the line for us. We always wanted to perform, but even more so against England.
Lord's is such a stunning ground, with so much history, so to go up on the honours board there was such a special feeling. And to get Graeme Hick as part of that six-for was really nice.
The best batting I saw from Zimbabwe players was a double-hundred partnership between Andy and Grant Flower against Pakistan in our first Test win. And in not-easy batting conditions.
When Matty Hayden made 380 against us: on the first ball of the second over, against Andy Blignaut, he was the plumbest lbw I've ever seen. "Not out." Then I remember taking the second new ball and - I don't know how many balls into my first over with it - he came yards down the wicket and just smashed it over my head and into the sightscreen for six. I thought then that maybe I shouldn't have taken the new ball after all. I was very happy when Lara got the record back.
I look at T20 and it's good that cricketers are getting their rewards. I suppose there's a little bit of regret that I wasn't born five years later but maybe I wouldn't have made it.
I got my best figures in Port-of-Spain, but we were 60-odd all out chasing 99 to win. They had Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Franklyn Rose. The wicket was misbehaving and they came out not wanting to have egg on their face. The guys tried to play positively but I remember Grant Flower got a ball from Ambrose that only got three or four inches off the ground from not far off a bumper length. So it was sad we didn't get them, but given the conditions, not really surprising.
I'd love to get more involved in coaching. I have looked at opportunities as a specialist bowling coach. That's something I'd like to do - especially something like the IPL. I feel I've got a lot to offer still. That's why I've started my academy. Unfortunately the Zimbabwe [coaching] thing didn't pan out for me for financial reasons and they didn't renew my contract, but five or six guys came through under my tenure.
I didn't know the ECB used footage of my action as the template for a half-and-half, "mixed" action. Maybe I should ask them for a cheque!
I do miss the game. It was the right time for me to finish. I was struggling with my back and getting up and bowling was getting uncomfortable, so I don't miss that part of it but I do miss being able to play when I was fit and healthy.
To have been part of the first Test win for Zimbabwe, and to have played such a crucial role in it, was something that I'll hold dear for a long time, although the only wicket I can really remember is coming round the wicket and nicking off Inzamam. But I do remember the victory celebrations at the end of it. I left the ground to go and have a toenail removed and came back later on for the celebrations, which were still going strong.
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